Public to be consulted on budget refresh proposals

Published: Monday, 20th November 2017

More money is to be invested in helping older people live independently in their own homes.

It will also focus on supporting growing numbers of children in care and helping people with learning disabilities as part of a proposed refresh of Stoke-on-Trent’s budget strategy, launched today (Monday). 

The refresh builds on an already agreed budget which will see £34m savings achieved between now and 2020. Altogether the city council has made £172m savings over the last seven years. The consultation takes into account updated information and revised forecasts since the budget was approved in February 2017 including additional pressures in both adults’ and children’s social care. 

The proposals come at a time when there is a challenging national background of an overall shortfall in public sector budgets. This is as a result of both reductions in government grants to councils and an increase in demand for statutory services for children in care, older people and people with learning disabilities.  

Government has previously set out the expectation for local authorities to increase the council tax precept by six per cent between 2017/18 and 2019/20 to directly support adult social care. Following a two per cent increase last year for this, a three per cent increase is being proposed for 2018/19 to respond to the additional adult social care pressures being faced in the city. 

To directly support growing numbers of children in care, it is proposed that the general council tax payment is also increased. This would see an overall proposed council tax increase of four per cent for 2018/19 and of three per cent in 2019/20. This would mean the majority of residents* for 2018/19 will only pay an additional 63p a week increase, equal to £32.51 for the year and for 2019/20 49p a week increase, equal to £25.26 for the year. Stoke-on-Trent has the lowest average council tax in the West Midlands. 

In total, an additional £10.5m of savings is to be consulted on for 2018/19 as part of the budget strategy. The savings proposals include further details of the council’s 2018/19 savings and new options to meet these additional challenges including proposals to reduce a number of jobs over the coming months. It will mean a total of 35 job losses at the authority once the creation of new posts have been factored in as part of service redesign for some parts of the council.  

The refreshed financial strategy builds on successful initiatives, including delivering additional funding from more business rates and council tax in the city, which have already secured £5m of income for the council, and is expected to deliver a further £6m over the next two years.  

Council leader Dave Conway said: “Setting a budget in what is being considered one of the toughest years ever for local authorities is extremely challenging. While we know our Stronger Together strategy is delivering – we are seeing more jobs, more homes and more benefits for the local economy – there is still a long way to go. By law we have to balance our budget – we have no choice. Costs have gone up as demand for our services has increased. At the same time nearly half the money we received from government has been removed meaning we have to take tough decisions. 

“We are investing in the right way to ensure we can deliver essential services to the most vulnerable in our community but we also have to make tough decisions to find the balance in other ways.  

“We continue to focus on redesigning services wherever we can, getting more value for money and looking at ways we can use the council’s expertise to generate income and become more commercially minded.

“We have set out a £429.2m capital investment programme** to 2022/23. This includes £2m investment in community initiatives to provide additional community-based facilities and activities, for example, to help our residents who suffer from dementia. It also includes £162.1m on refurbishing and building 360 new council houses which in turn will improve the quality of people’s lives and generate income that can be invested into essential services. For every 400 homes built, we will receive £1m via the government’s New Homes Bonus and council tax.”

Councillor Abi Brown, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance and partnerships, said: “This refreshed medium term financial strategy builds on our clear plans set out last year which provided certainty and stability in some of the most testing times for local government. Our Stronger Together strategy is already delivering income and benefits for the city council and for Stoke-on-Trent but we want to seek views on additional proposals to make sure our budget continues to be sustainable up to 2020. It’s especially difficult this year but we need to make sure we do the right things for the city’s residents and taxpayers. 

“Our programme of investment continues to focus on the areas that residents have said matters most to them, that allow us to improve the city for the long-term and that generate income. For example, we’re investing £91.9m on roads and infrastructure including street lighting and the Etruria Valley link road. 
“This investment is critical if we are to bring new business to the city and attract residents to grow our tax base, helping us to become more financially independent.”

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